Let me make it clear that we are ready to defend this country against any aggression and there will be no compromise for that,” these were the words of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh in a New Year address broadcast on national television.
Jammeh in his close to 14 minutes address used over half of the time to take a dig at the regional political bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), who are leading mediation efforts in the country following disputed presidential elections on December 1.
In his address, he described ECOWAS’ position of “doing all it can” to enforce the poll results as “declaring war” and also an insult to the Gambian constitution which has clear guidelines on how to solve its internal crisis.
“Let me make it clear. Most if not all the reasons advanced for me to re-embrace my initial position are fears of a military confrontation that leads to violence and concern for an outbreak of war in this peaceful country of ours. A military confrontation with who?
‘‘What is clearly incontrovertible is the decision of ECOWAS to implement the results of the December 1, 2016 election results by whatever means possible. It is totally illegal as it violates the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states. Which is an entrenched clause in the ECOWAS treaty?
‘‘It is in effect a declaration of war and an insult to our constitution. It is therefore absolutely unacceptable. This blatant, impartial and one-dimensional approach clearly indicates that the role of ECOWAS is not predicated on the pursuit of justice in the resolution of this stalemate.”
ECOWAS is on record to have said that it would take “all necessary actions” to resolve the political deadlock. ECOWAS commission chief Marcel de Souza warned that a military intervention could be used to restore the people’s wishes if mediation efforts spearheaded by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari failed to persuade Jammeh to give up power.
Jammeh lost the December 1 polls and earlier conceded defeat to Adama Barrow as president-elect. He, however, announced an annulment of the results and called for a rerun of the polls citing irregularities in counting of votes according to him as admitted by the electoral body.
ECOWAS appointed Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari and Ghana’s John Dramani Mahama as lead mediators in the political impasse in Gambia. The group said it will attend the inauguration of Adama Barrow on January 19, a position Jammeh has in the past challenged.
Senegal, Gambia’s only land neighbour, has said military intervention will be the last resort and that they hoped Jammeh will see reason and hand over executive power peacefully.
Senegal’s position is also backed by Guinea.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has scheduled January 10 for the preliminary hearing of a poll petition filed by Jammeh’s party.
In another development, a privately-owned radio station, Taranga FM, was forced to shut down by Gambian authorities.
Popular independent Gambian radio station Taranga FM was forced off the air by national security forces on Sunday afternoon.
One radio station staff member told French news agency AFP on condition of anonymity “four National Intelligence Agency operatives and one police officer in uniform came to the radio station this (Sunday) afternoon around 2.30pm and told us to stop broadcasting”.
“They said they have been ordered by the director-general of NIA, Yankuba Badjie, to tell us to stop broadcasting with immediate effect,” the staff member added. He was not given a reason why other than security was only “acting on executive orders”.
No radio staff members were arrested, according to one security source.
“We only asked them to stop broadcasting and they co-operated with us. They have stopped broadcasting since in the afternoon,” the source told AFP.
An AFP correspondent said the radio station was not broadcasting on Sunday evening.
Taranga FM was previously shut down by the Gambian government. The Gambia Press Union warned that Taranga FM’s closing may be the beginning of a crackdown against independent media outlets.
Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders ranked Gambia 145 out of 180 countries for press freedom in 2016, saying there was a “climate of terror around anything remotely to do with journalism”.
Taranga FM translates news from Gambian newspapers into local languages.
The radio station is considered critical of Jammeh, who lost the December 1 election to former real estate agent Adama Barrow,, according to results released by the country’s electoral body.